NCAA Preview: Round table Predictions

The long offseason is finally over with college basketball officially tipping off tonight with an intriguing battle of the Pitinos. For the next five months leading up to Selection Sunday on March 15, 2015 we’ll see countless upsets, court rushes, and bracket updates. Between early departures, transfers, and graduations, no major sport has teams constantly facing as much turnover college basketball. Meaning we know less about what’s going to happen in the coming season than any other sport. But here is the best attempt at some predictions.

Who’s winning Player of the Year?

Joe: Four of the top five favorites according to Vegas are freshmen with the fifth being Louisville big man Montrezl Harrell. Call me a traditionalist, but I’m not ready to give ‘Anthony Davis’ treatment to any of this group of freshmen. I’m going with Marcus Paige at UNC. In what could be a last gasp season before sanctions hit at UNC, I think Paige has enough around him to take another leap. If he does improve after a first team All-ACC season, I think Paige takes the crown.

Mac: I’m going to go slightly for an underdog here in Pre-season All American PG Fred Van Fleet out of Wichita State. The Shockers ran the table last year before finally falling to Kentucky in the 2nd Round, and they will be prohibitive favorites in every game they play this year including non-conference bouts against Memphis, New Mexico State, and Alabama. Van Fleet won’t have the flair, but has the high level steadiness and consistency to lead them once again undefeated into tournament play.

Who do you see making it to Lucas Oil Stadium?

Joe: Arizona, Kentucky, Iowa State, Gonzaga
I think this is the year Sean Miller gets over the hump and makes his first Final Four. Usually, I’m not a backer of Kentucky and they did struggle for most of the last two seasons despite high preseason rankings, but this team has so much talent AND experience.  After that, I’ll go with two relative surprises. Iowa State was set up for a deep tournament run last season before Georges Niang went down. If he doesn’t, they very could have made the trip to the Final Four instead of UConn. Most of their team comes back this season with their eyes on Indianapolis. My fourth team? Gonzaga. The Zags look like this year’s Wichita State. They’re absolutely loaded with talent. They have a veteran roster with two senior starters in the backcourt, transfer Byron Wesley at wing, transfer Kyle Wiltjer, and returning seven-footer Przemek Karnowski. I think the Zags get a one seed come March and unlike the Shockers last year, they probably won’t see a team as talented as Kentucky in the round of 32.

Mac: Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, Texas
This Kentucky team seems eerily similar to Calipari’s last title with having depth, experience, and of course an abundance of elite level talent. Duke’s problems the past couple of years have all been due to a lack of interior presence on both ends of the floor. Jahlil Okafor solves that and gives them 1b option to three point parade when shots aren’t falling. Wisconsin just knows how to play. The team is mostly the same, and the Badgers won’t beat themselves. My surprise pick is Texas. I love their frontline with Cameron Ridley and Jonathon Holmes. Add in the uber potential of Myles Turner and a year of experience for the supporting cast, and I think this team has a shot. Also of note – how cool is it that we get to see these four teams in non-conference matchups? DUKE vs. WIS in the ACC/B1G Challenge and UK v UT in the SEC/Big12

What’s your first team All-American team look like?

Joe: Marcus Paige, Montrezl Harrell, Jahlil Okafor, Sam Dekker, Stanley Johnson
Well obviously it includes Paige. However, he’ll be joined by fellow ACC members Harrell and Okafor. Those three dot almost every preseason awards list, and I can’t argue. Joining them is Wisconsin F Dekker who I think emerges as their featured scorer this year, and Arizona wing Johnson who may lead a top-seeded Wildcats team in scoring.

Mac: Fred Van Fleet, Marcus Paige, Frank Kaminsky, Perry Ellis, Jahlil Okafor
Van Fleet is my POY so he’s a lock, as is Paige who is a straight gamer. I think Kaminsky continues to give matchup problems for opposing teams all year. Ellis is so consistently overlooked, but Kansas will need him more than ever, and Okafor will look to become the first freshman to be a preseason, and actual All American.

Last year Villanova went from unranked to just missing a top seed in the tournament, what unranked team makes the most noise this season?

Joe: I considered Notre Dame emerging in a tough ACC, and Georgetown taking a leap forward, but I’m going to go with the Iowa Hawkeyes. They were well on their way to a top five seed in the NCAA tournament last year before collapsing to the ‘First Four.’ I think this year they lock up a four seed in March.

Mac: I’m going just outside the Top 25 with Stanford. They knocked out Kansas last year, and I believe this team might be better with the development of Chasson Randle and the addition of elite recruit Reid Travis. This team will be able to beat you up inside and utilize Randle in true crunch time moments.

Most dangerous mid-major?

Joe: Obviously, Gonzaga and Wichita State don’t count and the Atlantic 10 is as much a major conference as the American. The obvious choice here is Harvard which returns two elite guards in Siyani Chambers and Wesley Sanders. However, I’m going with Louisiana Tech. A team fresh off a 29-win season returns an upper classmen backcourt made up of ‘Speedy’ Smith, Raheem Appleby, and Alex Hamilton. This is a veteran team set up to pull off an upset or two in March.

Mac: How about VCU? By now everyone knows Shaka Smart and the Rams are good, but they haven’t exactly burned down the house in tournament play recently. Smart returns the majority of his team from last season plus adds his first Top 15 Recruiting class to the mix. This team is fast, athletic, tough, and with the right matchups can easily end up in Indianapolis.

Best player you may not have seen play?

Joe: It’s weird to say about a player who was second team All Big-12 last season, but Oklahoma junior guard Buddy Hield has consistently flown under the radar. One of the best shooters in one of the best backcourts in the nation, the time to learn Hield’s name is now. He should put up some crooked numbers for Lon Kruger and the Sooners this season.

Mac: Kevin Pangos can straight shoot the rock. Pangos is a senior now, but due to a couple down years for Gonzaga (relatively speaking) and their seclusion in the Pacific NW, not many people get to see Pangos on a regular basis. When Pangos heats up, it’s sure fun to watch.

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